Richard sits in on the CTV NewsChannel with host Andrea Bain to have a look at the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the award-worthy war film, “The Outpost,” the social drama “White Lie,” the ho-hum heist film “A Perfect Plan” and the documentary “Helmut Newton: The Bad and The Beautiful.”
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the immersive war film, “The Outpost,” the social drama “White Lie,” the ho-hum heist film “A Perfect Plan” and the documentary “Helmut Newton: The Bad and The Beautiful.”
Helmut Newton, the provocative photographer and subject of the documentary “Helmut Newton: The Bad and The Beautiful” now on virtual cinema, often said that there are “only two dirty words”: “art” and “good taste.” The sentiment rings true in context of his work and that his word count is off is also telling; he was a provocateur but a playful one.
Newton, whose nudes make up a vast portion of this doc, called himself a “professional voyeur,” someone interested in the surface, his model’s bodies. How can you photograph a soul, he asks? His subjects, the women who fell under his male gaze for decades, have answers. Bold faced names like Isabella Rossellini, Grace Jones, Claudia Schiffer and Marianne Faithfull among others, sing his praises, most describing the liberating effects of standing in front of his camera. His love—or is it obsession?—of the female form is roundly applauded in the film, as it was during his career, but in the #MeToo era photos of naked women with their faces obscured or reduced to an assortment of body parts, or wrapped in chains, don’t sit as well as they once did.
Of all the famous women in the film only Susan Sonntag, appearing on a French language panel show with Newton, addresses the negative undertones of his work.
Director Gero von Boehm assembles archival footage, new interviews and lots and lots of Newton’s nudes to illuminate the life and influences of the man who signed off letters with the inscription, Your Naughty Boy. It moves along quickly, painting a picture of a charming eccentric consumed by his work. There is nothing terribly revealing (other than the photos), just hagiographic stories about working with the man on set. Some are funny—“Helmut loved chickens. He loved to photograph chickens,” Is the lead in for a story about the famous photog snapping pictures of a chicken in high heels for Vogue.—but most settle for talking about what a pleasure it was to work with the man.
More interesting is a look back at his influences. As a German of Jewish descent, he and his family fled Berlin in 1938, but not before he had soaked up some very specific influences. German Expressionism gave him the idea of photography as an outlet for expressing his inner ideas while Nazi sympathizer Leni Riefenstahl’s films like “The Triumph of the Will” influenced his use of what he thought of as idealised human forms.
This is as close as the film gets to digging deep or placing Newton’s work in any sort of social context.
“Helmut Newton: The Bad and The Beautiful” is a snapshot in time at one of the people who helped define the high fashion look of an era. That it doesn’t dwell on the art or its ramifications is something Newton may have liked but the lack of social context leaves the documentary lacking.
“Helmut Newton: The Bad and The Beautiful” is streaming now via virtual cinemas at Hot Docs; the Vancity; Cinema Moderne (Mtl) and the Art Gallery of Hamilton.
Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the weekend’s new movies,“The Accountant,” starring Ben Affleck as a deadly bookkeeper, “American Honey” starring Sasha Lane, “Unless” with Catherine Keener and “Christine” with Rebecca Hall!
“Unless,” a new film staring Catherine Keener, is a portrait of a family in distress.
Successful author—a “book club darling”—and translator Reta Winters (Keener), her physician partner Tom (Matt Craven) and children are rocked out of their suburban complacency when daughter Norah (Hannah Gross) drops out of society to become a panhandler on the streets of Toronto.
Wrapped in a thick wool blanket, holding a sign that reads “Goodness,” Norah sits, catatonically outside of legendary discount department store Honest Ed’s. Detached and despondent, the young woman sits, quiet as the falling snow that swirls around her as her family struggles to understand why and how she ended up on the street. Is it a breakdown? A protest? A personal revolution? A reckoning of some sort?
Based on Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Shields’s final novel, she passed away in 2003, “Unless” isn’t driven by plot but by Norah’s unhappiness and her family’s reaction to it. Some flowery dialogue occasionally gets in the way—“Sometimes I think that for Norah there’s a bounteous feast going on but she has not been invited.”—but Keener’s keen intelligence and concern provides the emotional core that shapes the thin story into a compelling character study. In the novel Reta’s journey was an internal one and Keener makes it external and as cinematic as possible given the subdued nature of the film.
Although the question of why and how this happened lies at the heart of the film, director Alan Gilsenan is more interested in the effects of Norah’s decision than the decision itself. There is a conclusion, a reason, but the destination in this case is less satisfying than the journey. The trauma that triggered Norah’s inward turn is unsettling, both emotionally and visually as presented in the movie, but doesn’t provide the kind of capper a story like this needs to transcend character. It feels slightly out of balance in its final minutes as it switches focus from Reta to Norah because we realize that this isn’t the story of a woman’s decision to drop out, but the story of a family’s reckoning with the aftermath of that choice.